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‘People of the Water, People of the Grass’ — Nisqually Tribe’s Salmon Heritage

‘People of the Water, People of the Grass’ — Nisqually Tribe’s Salmon Heritage

For the Nisqually Tribe, salmon is not simply a livelihood. The Nisqually have always been a fishing people, with salmon as a diet staple as well as an ingrained part of their culture.

The tribe’s fishing heritage dates back thousands of years. Legend has it that their ancestors — the Squalli-absch, meaning “the people of the grass” — first settled in the Puget Sound region after crossing the Cascade Mountain Range from the Great Basin. One of their major villages was near Mashel River, a Nisqually River tributary. 

It’s their ancestors, in fact, who later gave the river its name, Squalli, later Anglicized as Nisqually.

Long before the white settlers came to the region, the Nisqually people lived in harmony with salmon and other wildlife. Throughout the generations, tribe members have been taught great respect and care for the ecosystem’s animal and plant life.

One of the lessons learned through the years was the importance of maintaining a healthy ecological system for the salmon — making sure the fish will keep returning to the local streams, lakes and rivers. It’s one of the reasons the tribe has an extensive salmon-restoration program.

Today, the tribe has about 650 members, most of whom live on or near the 5,000-acre Nisqually Reservation, established by the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854.

The area they now call home is much smaller than their 2 million-acre aboriginal homeland. But the Nisqually people continue to preserve the heritage of the Squalli-absch.

“The people of the water, the people of the grass” are honoring their ancestors’ traditions of living in harmony with the water and the land. They’re working to ensure the Nisqually people will be able to maintain their way of life for many new generations.

Tags: seafood

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